A few weeks ago, our Colorado friends, visiting with us in Lucca, Italy, suggested a wine tasting at a vineyard close by. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, given that tasting the wine was to be in the context of a meal, and remember we are in Italy where food for pranzo (lunch, often the main meal) can be more than abundant.
However, duh! Food is the best accompaniment to wine, certainly here, and probably in most places. We were at the Tenuta di Valgiano, with Laura di Collobiano, proprietaria (owner), and she took us on a tour of the vineyard for starters. There was the food, the wine, and the information that came to us with ease and with passion.
The lunch within a setting that is nothing less than glorious was crucial to the whole experience. Learning about the land, and the wine was enriched by the setting of Valgiano, and of course the tasting of a number of wines, according (not unimportant) to our preferences as we went along. Without the setting, and without the food that was prepared and delivered graciously, and the dining in which Laura also shared, the experience would have lacked completeness.
Laura “had me” at two expressions; actually it was more than that. One was the title of this piece, that “wine is the liquid expression of the landscape”. The second-- equally as important—was, “It’s not money that makes good wine. Wine is the project of a lifetime.” Laura spoke about how people want things fast, for results to be immediate.
In addition, Laura spoke about the use of pesticides. She and others in the same field of biodynamic farming, see themselves not as “fighters of disease but as creators of health” (another expression). It was fascinating to hear how it can be practical to be healthy, practical to cooperate with other farmers and makers of wine in an atmosphere where people are glad for the variety of products, realizing that no one person or azienda can do or make everything. And it turns out the 70% of agriculture in Lucca is in fact biodynamic, encouraging also.
So: let me share a bit of what I learned. This information came in more than one sitting, since were able to talk over a caffe’ together some days after our first adventure. Laura tells me how monoculture, growing one thing on lots of land, can be toxic for growth. Insects that harm the produce don’t tend to replicate in the midst of biodiversity. Fascinating, I think.
Then there is Rudolf Steiner, who in addition to creating the Waldorf schools, known for their emphasis on integrating imagination, the intellectual and hands on aspects of learning, was a very knowledgeable and inventive farmer as well. Steiner actually presided at a conference in Koblerwitz (now Poland) at the residence of Count Keiserlingk in 1924. He had been called on to help rehabilitate the land in a presentation to which he decided to invite only farmers.
Steiner’s concept goes a bit like this: Cow horns are filled up with cow dung and buried for 6 months (From October to April: one solstice). By then, the cow dung has completely transformed into an evenly suspended substance, similar to humus (whose Latin root is “humble”.) This substance was in turn named "500" by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (one of Steiner's pupils), who had counted some 500 million aerobic bacteria in one gram. “500” is, in fact, the instrument central to anything labeled biodynamic farming. I know: it’s complex and there is quite a lot to comprehend for those of us who are beginners and intrigued as well.
Through experiencing, our tastes can change. Our minds can open, and we can learn enough to make us excited enough to learn more. One of the ways in which this happened for me in terms of the wine tasting and wine learning, came in Laura’s speaking about making wine from the grapes that are, rather than in terms of dictating what the grapes should be without taking into account what is in the soil already. To see what is there and to build on that, what a concept!
Meanwhile, learning something about biodynamic farming was for me also something of a light bulb going off. Magic can happen; things can go well through healthy channels and care. It’s a reminder that yes, cooperation and sane management of agriculture can conceivably work. And for me, this becomes the reinforcement of an optimistic vision of how cooperation can conceivably be effective, cost effective as well, in so many arenas. Of course there is always and also luck—the consistency of weather conditions—here in the Lucca region the rain that is plentiful (at least for now)
In terms of enchanting, there is a bit of a fairy tale quality to the story of Valgiano. There was a dream, a vision, something that seemed possible despite the hard work that would be involved, as well as the lack of certainty of results. Then there were people; there were Laura’s husband Moreno, and her good friend Saverio Petrilli, and there are the people who help work the land and cook in the kitchen. It is inspiring, as is the educational aspect that I had not really originally considered as a potential part of wine tasting.
I feel like my taste buds opened, and yes of course also to wines new to me. I feel empowered by another one of Laura’s “expressions”: “Wine, being good, also depends on whether you like it. After all who is another person, even an authority, to tell you it is good if you good if in fact you don’t like it at all.” Indeed. Yes, a toast to eliminating the snobbery, if that could begin to be possible!
While I’m at it, I’ll take a case also of those stories about how we can be effective from a financial point of view, while also respecting nature, and people. Actually, keep them coming. Please.